Increasing the awareness of scientific
122. As we have seen, students tend to choose to
study science post-16 despite their experiences at GCSE rather
than because of their experiences. They are motivated by longer
term ambitions, although students knowledge of the options open
to them after studying science is limited. Improving the experience
of science at 14 to 16 in the ways that we suggest in this report
should motivate students to consider studying science post-16.
They should be provided with proper careers advice.
Government should ensure that the careers service improves the
quality of advice offered to school students about scientific
careers and the breadth of career possibilities open to those
with qualifications in science.
123. Young people have reported that careers advice
is most helpful where they already have an idea of the area in
which they would like to work, so their initial interest in science
related careers needs to be stimulated in other ways. A student
at Quintin Kynaston School, London told us that his knowledge
of where scientific careers could lead came from his mother, a
virologist. Most students do not have such inspiration available
to them so close to home and this is where it can be useful to
identify role models. Nigel Thomas of the Royal Society told us
that the best way to increase the number of girls interested in
scientific careers would be to "put women as role models
in the situation where they were accessible to school pupils".
We would see the same applying to boys. There are a number of
schemes that create opportunities for students to meet scientists.
Sheffield Hallam University tell us about their Researchers in
Residence programme, run with funding from the research councils.
It is based on postgraduate students spending between six and
eight half days in a school, working with students on science
investigations and projects. Government has recognised the value
of role models in motivating young people, which resulted in the
launch of the Science and Engineering Ambassadors scheme in January
2002 as a joint initiative between DfES and DTI. This aims to
bring 30,000 young people working in science, engineering and
technology into schools for a few days each year to act as role
models and mentors. Their role is to work with teachers rather
than as teachers and this we support. Teaching is a profession;
scientists are not trained to do it. We welcome the motivation
behind the Government's Science and Engineering Ambassadors initiative
and look forward to seeing an evaluation of how effectively it
is implemented and what impact it has.
124. Research by the National Institute for Careers
Education and Counselling (NICEC) reports that work experience
is commonly cited as the most useful part of a careers programme.
Most young people have the opportunity to go on work experience
placements, usually for one or two weeks. However, the NICEC research
found that schools often had difficulty finding placements in
science and engineering based employers because of insurance and
health and safety issues or the lack of local science-based employers.
Teachers in Bolton said that science students often carried out
work experience in completely irrelevant environments, for example
working as shop assistants.
They wanted engineering and science-based companies to be encouraged
to participate in work experience schemes. NICEC suggest that
alternative approaches, such as work shadowing, work simulation
or short courses, be explored by schools and employers. One example
of this is a three day event for girls run by the Women into Science
and Engineering scheme, described to us by George Salmon of the
Institution of Incorporated Engineers.
Over the three days the students visit several local engineering
companies and complete an engineering project. Victor Lucas from
the Engineering Council told us that a number of similar schemes
exist but that the level to which schools and colleges get involved
"is very variable across the country".
We have heard from Denmark of a pilot project in which students,
as part of a three year post-16 science course, spend one week
each year carrying out a science-based project in a local company.
125. An increase in the teaching of vocationally
orientated courses at 14 to 16 might change this. For example,
the new GCSE in Applied Science will require students to complete
a project investigating how science is used in selected workplace.
The AQA draft specification for this course suggests students
could look at a hospital laboratory, a civil engineering company
or an environmental monitoring consultancy, among others. This
sort of project has the potential to bring science to life for
young people studying traditional science courses as well. However,
it is time consuming for teachers to organise outside visits or
speakers and it also uses valuable classroom time. Where teachers
feel under pressure, whether from their workload or from an overloaded
curriculum, they are less likely to use time setting up links
with local companies. A benefit of requiring science to be
taught using contemporary contexts is that it would encourage
more science teachers to make use of local science-based employers
to support their teaching.